Ah, Joni Mitchell—how right you are. We arrived in Rome in August 2011 and ate one of our first meals in a tiny restaurant just two blocks away: Ristorante Monserrato. With 20 or so tables on a cramped, traffic-filled, not particularly charming piazza just north of Piazza Farnese, Monserrato didn’t look like much, but our first bite of the kitchen’s antipasti misti of delicious raw fish was all it took for us to appreciate what a good thing we had found. That night a waiter named Marco served us dinner and our first sgroppino, the chilled vodka, gelato, prosecco, and lemon dessert drink that is still a favorite. No makes them like Monserrato!
Marco quickly became our regular waiter, and we would often stop to ask him to hold a table for us while we had a pre-dinner drink up the street. Until we tasted the mussels at Monserrato and shared an enormous platter of them for appetizers ever after, Marco would concoct an antipasto platter of the freshest raw fish they had that night and serve it drizzled with olive oil and parsley. He knew that our favorite white wine at Monserrato was Nozze d’Oro from Sicily, and he always brought it icy cold to our table. He so enjoyed our early and awful attempts to order in Italian and gently corrected our mistakes.
The few tourists who ate at Monserrato took the early shift, stopping for dinner around 8. We claimed our table at 9 or 9:30. The Romans arrived at 10 or 10:30 and filled all of the tables, double-parking on the street and eating and drinking with gusto. Then Monserrato came alive and the waiters had to turn away disappointed passersby.
But something happened last winter and Ristorante Monserrato closed, perhaps forever, in January or February. Now I walk up the street and hope against hope that I will see the orange-covered tables sitting outside. I pass the bicycle shop on the corner on my way to class and wish that Marco would come walking down the street as he often did, his hand raised in a cheerful salute.
We miss Monserrato, and we miss Marco. We wish we could eat there again. You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.